Department of Social Protection in Mahalapye hosted the Northern Zone Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Forum with an emphasis on children at the community hall recently.
“It’s worse with COIVD-19 because they lose loved ones, teachers and family members and therefore need counselling,” he said, adding that the children should be given a platform to show how they want to live. Giving the objectives of the forum Mahalapye sub-district Social Protection Director, Joseph Kgabanyane said there was a need to come together with stakeholders and NCC to discuss the effects of COVID-19. “Things have changed and we are losing the youth, 35 to 45 years and they leave young children and parents. How do we deal with this issue?” he said.
He said traditional structures should be integrated for the benefit of children, especially in the rural areas where residents are related and share a cultural background.
“Everyone has to contribute for the sake of the children. Let’s go out into the community and discuss how to deal with the challenges they face. We can do it together despite our differences. Now that we have other means like vaccines, what does this mean,” he stated.
To sum up, the voices of the children who had the previous day met to discuss, their representative Boago Monnathebe said, “With folded hands and bent knees we kindly request you to hear our cry". The children wanted social security to be increased, their beloved teachers to be vaccinated, social welfare for those distressed children, allowance for retrenched workers and that poverty alleviation schemes should be extended to those who lack the basics among others.
National Children’s Council (NCC) chairperson, Mamikie Kamanakao bemoaned the situation of the children’s advocacy council and called for its autonomy.
“We don’t have everything we need. Please look at the council and see if we have enough,” she challenged the minister. Kamanakao suggested that disaster relief, alcohol levy and poverty eradication funds should be integrated for the benefit of children, especially now that there are COVID-19-related challenges. “There is money but the problem is the use of our minds. There’s too much secrecy surrounding these funds,” she said, suggesting a multi-sectoral approach. She also revealed that there were students who deliberately spread COVID-19 by wearing one mask so that they too fall sick to get a school break or infect certain teachers. She likened them to militant suicide bombers who kill themselves just to kill others. “Why do you want to make other children orphans? What happens in schools is a shame,” she said. Kamanakao was also concerned about reckless reporting by the media on children’s issues and urged reporters that they too are parents who should put the best interests of the children first. “Media is biased. You leave a child bruised when you hype a case that a child has lost. Let’s do responsible reporting," she said.
Assistant minister Pule was shocked by the behaviour of children but acknowledged the lamentations of the NCC director saying: “We heard you and we accept your approach. It’s very important to integrate". He said the theme could not have been more appropriate as they seek ways to deal with the pandemic. “This provides an opportunity to combine efforts towards resilience through the use of locally-based approaches, indigenous knowledge as well as research in the area of mental health and psychosocial support.” Mahalapye West MP, Tshere urged stakeholders to sensitize leaders on issues so that they can take them to Parliament. He, however, said parliamentarians had talked a lot about children and mental health, adding that there was a need to come together for the sake of children.
The legislator also acknowledged the good work that went into putting the forum together and pledged his support. After presentations from Mahalapye, Chobe, Selebi Phikwe and Okavango sub-districts Child Protection Consultant, Ben Semommung summarized the resolutions. These include child-friendly courts, the establishment of recreational facilities, training, use of technology, incentives and strengthening of multi-sectoral approaches among other things. Revamping of strategies and scaling up were identified as some of the ways to add value by complementing each other. “We need to utilize existing structures to identify and fix problems at the community level,” Semommung said. The next session of the forum, which was supposed to be held during the weekend has been postponed to a date yet to be communicated due to the recent tighter COVID-19 health protocols. PCI, REPSSI and Marang Child Care have partnered with the government of Botswana through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to make the forum possible.